Holliday wasn’t cooking methamphetamine, but turned to a life of gunfighting spurred by a terminal illness.

John Henry Holliday may well be one of the most famous dentists of all time. Unfortunately, he isn’t exactly known for his work in pioneering the study of dental practices. However, he is still widely and justly recognized for his work in the dental field despite the short amount of time he spent in his own practice.

Early Life

Holliday was born in 1851 in Georgia. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was 15 years old, at this moment in his life he unknowingly contracted the illness while he was caring for her during the early stages of contagion. He grew up quick and at the age of 21 graduated with a degree in dentistry from Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. He established his own practice in Atlanta Georgia, roughly 50 miles from his hometown. Unfortunately, his tuberculosis reared its ugly head and made its presence known. In an effort to salvage himself, he abandoned dentistry and moved to the Southwest, hoping the air would agree better with him.

Man Of The Law

Moving first to Arizona, he became a professional gambler — a legitimate, lucrative career at the time. Holliday had the good fortune to save the life of Wyatt Earp, a friendship that would change the course of his life. He followed Earp around the Southwest from Nevada to New Mexico to Arizona. Specifically Tombstone, Arizona would become a crucial location in his life. The city where Doc Holliday and the Earp family lawmen tried to disarm the local band of rogues, resulting in a 30 second shootout. The Gunfight at O.K. Corral has arguably become one of the most famous gunfights from the era of the Wild West. After the shootout, the ruffians continued to torment the Earp family, leading Wyatt to a morally questionable decision of using his position as a U.S. marshal to deputize a federal posse for help in killing the remaining outlaws. The posse was successful in their mission but the men were all extradited to Arizona in an attempt to punish them lawfully.


After learning that Holliday was making his way to Colorado, Earp was sure Governor Pitkin would deny the order for Holliday’s extradition, allowing him to live out his remaining years in peace. Holliday made it as far as Glenwood Springs, Colorado before passing away in a rented room of Hotel Glenwood. Though it’s said he is buried in a potter’s field, due to his poverty, the people of Glenwood Springs erected a headstone in Pioneer Cemetery for the Wild West hero. There is also a dedicated museum to Holliday in the basement of Bullocks Western Store, the building that now occupies the burned down Hotel. The centerpiece of the museum is the pistol gifted to him by his common-law wife, Kate Horony, with an intricate inscription, “To Doc From Kate.”

A man who had numerous achievements in his total 36 years on Earth, Doc Holliday is regularly referred to as a dentist first and foremost. While the profession may have taken a backseat after his diagnosis, we still think it’s pretty cool to have a famous Wild West dentist in our history.

If you’re looking for a modern dentist and not one that had his heyday in the late 1800s, we should be your first call! We wouldn’t say that Christiana Dental Center is known for our cowboy gunslingers in the office but we would say that we are known for high quality care and professional expertise. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.